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Northwell Health plans spinoff of body-part printing venture

Todd Goldstein, a 3D bioprinting researcher at Northwell

Todd Goldstein, a 3D bioprinting researcher at Northwell Health's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, holds up a plastic model of a child's heart that was printed from CT scans of the heart of an actual patient. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

An initiative to eventually create body parts from patients’ own tissue using 3D printers has won $100,000 in financing from Northwell Health, and is slated to be spun off from the health system as a new company in as soon as eight months, Northwell executives said Monday.

The project to use 3D printers to fashion replacement bones, windpipes or other body parts was the top vote-getter of three internal initiatives vying for funding in a contest run by Northwell, Michael Dowling, chief executive of the healthcare system, announced at its Feinstein Institute for Medical Research unit in Manhasset.

The body-part printing venture “gives new meaning to hot off the presses,” said Thomas Thornton, senior vice president Northwell Ventures, the system’s venture capital unit.

On display at an event announcing the funding were 3D printers and a plastic skull, hand and heart rendered by the machines from magnetic resonance imaging scans of Northwell patients.

Todd Goldstein, an orthopedic research assistant working with researcher Daniel Grande, spearheaded the project.

“We’ve done full replacement of tracheas in rabbits,” he said. Approval of such procedures for humans must come from the Food and Drug Administration and could take five to 10 years, he said.

The funding announced Monday will go toward research and eventual clinical trials.

In the early stages of his research, Goldstein, a doctoral candidate, used an off-the-shelf 3D printer to create parts that he then used to modify that printer and allow it to make a “bioprinted” trachea for research purposes.

In the near term, the technology can be used to translate MRI scans of a heart into a three-dimensional model made of plastic that can help doctors create a detailed plan in advance of surgery, or precisely guide the drill of an oral surgeon performing a dental implant.

The 3D printing initiative initially will provide services to Northwell Health, formerly known as North Shore-LIJ Health System, Thornton said.

“We know we have internal demand,” he said. After those services are established, the company can be spun off and seek outside markets.

Northwell Ventures, formed in 2013, already has spun off companies that: conduct clinical trials for drug companies; make a mobile app designed to simplify patient discharge instructions; and develop technology that lets physicians monitor referrals and collaborate with other doctors.

The research initiatives competing against 3D bioprinting in Northwell’s online balloting were:

--Identification Shield, a temporary, nontransferable stamp on the skin of patients that incorporates a bar code and serves as an alternative to the hospital wrist band.

--A blood-loss manager device that stimulates the vagus nerve through the skin and reduces the amount of blood lost from wounds or surgery.

Dowling said that almost a half million votes were cast as the public was asked to determine which project should get the $100,000 in funding. Officials said that Northwell could also provide funding to the two other initiatives.

Dr. Lee Smith, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist who worked on the winning project, said bioprinted body parts, like self-driving cars, have left the realm of science fiction.

“It’s science now,” he said. “We’re right on the edge.”

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